January 2012
December 22, 2011

Common core standards: Getting it right

Author: Sylvia Saunders
Source: NYSUT United
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Ready or not, the State Education Department (SED) is urging teachers this semester to try out one unit aligned from the Common Core State Standards, which have been adopted by 47 states, including New York.

The Regents approved the New York State P-12 Common Core Learning Standards last January, with introductory phase-in during the 2011-12 school year. According to SED, this is a transitional year, with school districts providing support and professional development on how to incorporate the new standards into instruction. SED has posted a handful of exemplary lessons and Commissioner John King has urged teachers to try aligning at least one unit per semester with the common core standards.

While a recent NYSUT survey shows members are aware of the common core standards, too many districts are not providing members with the professional development that is needed.

The union is hearing reports from the field that some principals and superintendents are trying to require teachers to submit lesson plans aligned with the new common core standards. This is NOT a state requirement this year. Nothing is mandated until 2012-13. (In fact, this spring's state assessments in English language arts and math will continue to be based on the 2005 learning standards.)

It's important to keep in mind that many collective bargaining agreements include provisions about lesson plans. The introductory phase-in does not supersede collective bargaining agreements. Local leaders are encouraged to bring to their labor relations specialists any concerns about contract violations or unilateral changes in working conditions in connection with the common core standards.

"Our position is very clear. We support the common core standards because they are deeper, clearer and, if implemented appropriately, can improve student learning," said NYSUT Vice President Maria Neira. "However, in order to make this sea change in planning for instruction, we need quality professional development, adequate time and collaborative teams working on capacity-building."

Once again, Neira noted, SED is rushing the transition and not getting the sequence right. SED is planning to leapfrog to new assessments on the common core standards in 2012-13, before all of the curriculum modules are ready. "We are continuing to advocate for a meaningful transition so this effort can be successful," Neira said.

Neira urged local leaders to ensure practitioners are involved with district and school-level committees working on realigning instruction. For background information, SED has set up a new Web page, EngageNY.org, with exemplar lesson plans, a video and an overview of the 12 major shifts in instruction. In addition, the union's Education & Learning Trust and the state's teacher center network are partnering to offer professional development opportunities to help educators with the transition.